Strengthening a pastoral response to the ecological crisis through existing spaces within the Church
The current ecological crisis is still raising concerns about the care for the environment. Many people ranging from policy makers to theologians, environmentalists, historians and ecologists are critically reflecting on how to care for the environment “our common home” as Pope Francis refers to it in his encyclical Laudato Si’. The church particularly has a special role to play in teaching Christians the morality of environmental stewardship and promoting care for the environment among the faithful. However, this requires the church to read the signs of the times. Reading the signs of the times would enable the church to seek answers to the crisis not only in the traditional teachings of the church but also from day-to-day experiences through using existing spaces and structures. However, this is not to suggest that the church has not taken the ecological crisis seriously. On the contrary I suggest that since we live in an era of ecological crisis, religious spaces can still do more through the available systems in the church. In this write-up, I discuss how the church can reinforce its response to the current ecological crisis through the existing spaces particularly the small Christian communities (SCC), liturgical gatherings and theological formation institutions.
To begin with, the Church in Africa has strategized indigenizing and localizing the gospel through small Christian communities (SCC). These communities are essential to the very structure of the Parish, Diocese and the Church as a whole. Archbishop Emeritus of Nairobi Raphael S. Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki once remarked that “when a parish is built within small Christian communities, there are no spectators; they are all players… participation is what it is all about.” My argument is that issues of environmental conservation could feature on the agendas of small Christian communities. How then can the Church use these communities to strengthen its response to the ecological crisis?
Pastoral letters that promote eco-justice should be translated into local languages and discussed in the small Christian communities. Most times, however, these letters remain in the offices of the church ministers and are seldom translated into the local languages for the people at the grassroots to identify their experiences with the message contained in these letters. Laudato Si’, for example, has gained a great audience in its call upon all people, both Christian and non-Christian, to respond to the environmental crisis. This is a very rich document. However the question is: “have excerpts of this document been made available to the small Christian communities to engage them on how best to respond to the crisis?” Making available this document would entail among other factors translating it into local languages for the faithful to read, understand and even identify with it. The small Christian communities could then become a key ingredient in the work of sensitizing the grass roots communities about the current ecological crisis. It would also go a long way in promoting individual as well as collective responsibility towards environmental activism.
Celebration of environmental days which are usually at national and international levels could also be locally observed in the small Christian communities. This could help the local communities to become more aware of the crisis that is affecting society today and enable them to become agents of the change we need.
Furthermore, liturgies, seminars, and retreats that focus on an environmental stewardship model, could be used to redefine the understanding the relationship of of humans to nature. For example, through liturgical gatherings, liturgical songs that are of environmental concern could help to communicate messages oriented towards environmental protection.
Another space within the Church that could be used to offer a response to the ecological crisis is theological formation institutions. According to the World Council of Churches, theological schools, seminaries and academics could also teach stewardship of all creation in order to deepen the ethical and theological understanding of the causes of global warming and climate change and of the sustainable lifestyle that is needed as a response. Using theological formation houses to equip future church ministers with information on the ecological crisis confronting humanity has been overlooked for some time. How then do we expect church ministers to respond to the ecological crisis if they have no appropriate knowledge on how to go about it? How will they realise that there is need for an ethics of care to help people become good stewards of the environment if they never ever heard about it during their theological training? Is it theologically sound for future church ministers to remain unresponsive to the crisis we are facing? The issues of ecology need not to be limited to conferences of church ministers but should also be taken to lecture rooms of future church ministers especially in formation houses. Only then can the future ministers become aware of the reality of the crisis and how to respond to it. There is therefore an urgent need for the theologians to reflect on the question of how the ecological crisis can affect the church’s witness to the gospel message of hope, love and faith.
 Muwesi, J.V and Mwerakande, E. 2005. “SCC diocesan training team reaches out in Uganda” In: Healey, J.G and Hinton, J. (Eds.) Small Christian Communities today: Capturing the New moment Maryknoll New York Orbis Books pp.106-109
 World Council of Churches. Climate Change and the World Council of Churches: Background information & recent statements March 2010, pp. 21. Available at http://www.climatejusticeonline.org/wp-content/uploads/WCC-climate-change-booklet.pdf [accessed on 21st June 2016]